END OF THE CALIPHATE: MONGOL SACK OF BAGHDAD

On February 10, 1258 a Mongol army sacked Baghdad, capital city of the Abbasid Caliphate. Shortly after, the Khan ordered the death of the last Abbasid Caliph, Al-Musta’sim. Though hardly remembered, it was an event that rocked the Muslim world in its days; the repercussions of which are still felt today.

Hulagu Khan, commander of the Mongols in the Middle East and founder of the Persia-based Il-Khanate, was the grandson of Genghis Khan and brother to both China’s Kublai Khan, and to another Kha-Khan (“Great Khan”, the title carried by the overlord of the entire Mongol Empire), Khan Möngke. At its peak, the realm Hulago created included Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan; and parts of Turkey, Syria, and Jordan.

The sack of Baghdad culminated the initial phase of the Mongol attempt to conquer the Middle East; begun with Genghis Khan’s conquest of Khwarezmia in 1221. A project abandoned after Genghis Khan’s death, his grandson took up the task; supported by perhaps the largest Mongol army ever assembled: by order of his brother, Great Khan Möngke, two-tenths of the empire’s fighting men were allocated to the task. Not less than 100,000 fighting men formed Hulago’s horde; and likely many more than that.

Hulago opened the campaign by attacking Alamut; the chief stronghold of the fearedAsasiyun (Assassins) . This fortress citadel, thought at the time to be impregnable, lay in the mountains of Iran, about 60 miles from modern Tehran. Seeing the “handwriting on the wall”, the Assassins surrendered on condition their lives were spared. But Alamut was destroyed, and with it the power of the Assassin cult, which had terrorized the Middle East since the 11th century.

The ruins of lofty Alamut. From here, the “Old Man of the Mountain”, leader of the Assassin cult, directed an army of dedicated killers throughout the Middle East for almost two centuries. Hulagu Khan destroyed the citadel on his way to the sack of Baghdad.Baghdad was then the ancient seat of the Abbasid Caliphate; a secular and religious authority within Islam that dated back to the 8th century. Established after the overthrow of the original Caliphate of the Umayyads in 750, the first Abbasid….

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